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Long Lost Mustang Shelby GT500 "Little Red" Prototype Found in Texas Field

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 8/20/2018 Alexander Stoklosa
'67 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Prototype Thought Lost has Been Found: This notchback coupe served as a test bed for Shelby's go-fast Mustang parts.© Provided by Car and Driver This notchback coupe served as a test bed for Shelby's go-fast Mustang parts.

In the late 1960s, a red-painted Ford Mustang notchback coupe dressed in Shelby GT500 clothing and stuffed with experimental engine technology up and disappeared. Its usefulness as a prototype for testing and developing go-fast Mustang parts and the '67 GT500 over, the Ford-provided pony car was taken out of Shelby’s testing rotation. Collectors are said to have assumed the car was sent to the crusher, as many prototypes were, or maybe it was simply lost to the sands of time.

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Only it wasn’t. As it turns out, the Mustang was sold off as a used car, cycling through a few owners until settling onto its rear suspension in a Texas field, its front end no longer burdened by its Shelby-fettled big-block V-8 engine and three-speed automatic transmission. But the coupe’s Shelby-style horizontal taillights, side stripes, and small Shelby badges on its roof pillars are unmistakable. So, too, is its sun-faded red paint, a helpful marker for the GT500 EXP prototype nicknamed “Little Red.”

Craig Jackson, the CEO of the Barrett-Jackson auction outfit, was lucky enough to set the discovery in motion. With the assistance of Jason Billups, a car restorer, he uncovered the original Ford VIN code for Little Red-other searchers had long based their efforts on the Shelby-assigned serial number-which led them to its most recent owner via registration records. Earlier this year, with the help of Mustang guru Kevin Marti, the experimental Shelby Mustang was positively identified and later purchased by Mr. Jackson.

Watch: Related video, courtesy of Craig Jackson
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The car’s Shelby connection is only the tip of its collectability iceberg. This is the only ’67 GT500 notchback coupe ever built by Shelby; a ’68 version also was built. Because life isn’t fair, Mr. Jackson also owns that notchback GT500. The unusual body style-every production GT500 was based on the Mustang’s fastback body shell-presaged the Mustang California GT Special, which was a production notchback wearing Shelby-style front and rear styling. Though missing, the engine is believed to have at one time worn a Paxton supercharger, and the Mustang GT donor car is said to be the only one Ford factory-equipped with dual-quad carburetors.

Timing is everything, and whether by accident or design, it’s fortuitous for the GT500 EXP’s new owner. Ford is on the cusp of debuting an all-new Mustang Shelby GT500, making this early GT500 prototype’s discovery all the more significant. Though it’s fairly rundown and missing a host of components, including its front fenders, Little Red is set to undergo a complete restoration. To which form of itself it’ll be returned to is an open question. As a prototype, the Mustang underwent a series of changes throughout its short life as a test bed for Shelby components. Its new owner is soliciting any and all help on that front, and is imploring anyone with firsthand information about the car itself or photos or records from back in the day to submit it via the website shelbyprototypecoupes.com

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